ISRO’s first defence satellite GSAT-7/ INSAT-4F is expected to significantly improve India’s maritime security and intelligence gathering

GSAT-7, the country's first advanced and full-fledged military communications satellite, was launched in the early hours of Friday from the Kourou space port of French Guiana space in South America. The multi-band spacecraft, to be used exclusively by Indian Navy, was put in orbit on a European Ariane 5 rocket at 2 a.m., Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said after the launch. It is also the last of ISRO's fourth-generation series of seven satellites.

GSAT-7/ INSAT-4F is expected to significantly improve the country’s maritime security and intelligence gathering in a wide swathe on either coasts of the Indian Ocean region.

About 34 minutes after take-off, Ariane-5 placed the spacecraft precisely in the intended temporary oval or geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) in space.

In a post-launch address at Kourou, ISRO Satellite Centre Director S.K. Shivakumar said the satellite would be functionally readied by September-end. Scientists at the Master Control Facility in Hassan, about 100 km from Bangalore, unfurled the power-generating solar panel of the satellite within a few minutes of its being placed in space. Dr. Shivakumar said payload operations would begin in a week.

ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan is at Hassan for the first of the three orbit manoeuvres around 2 a.m. on Saturday.

"Initial checks have indicated normal health of the satellite. The present orbit will be gradually increased to an altitude of 36,000 km and placed in a geostationary [Earth-fixed] orbit by September 4," ISRO said.

Improved sea communication

Built to the Navy’s multiple-band requirements as a platform to safely link up its ships, submarines, aircraft and command from land in real time, it is also the country’s first full-fledged military communication satellite. Until now the defence forces have used minuscule capacities on ISRO’s various INSAT/GSAT satellites.

For the Navy, this is part of a long-term modernisation plan involving the use of satellites and information technology. In recent years successive Chiefs of Naval Staff have identified space-based communications as the core of the Navy’s futuristic network-centric operations.

Around 2014-15, it will be followed by GSAT-7A, some of whose resources the Navy is said to share with the Air Force and the Army.

GSAT-7 is said to have cost Rs. 950 crore, almost half of it for the foreign launch and part funded by the Force in an underplayed civil-defence partnership.

According to information gathered from two satellite communication experts, the UHF has never been used until now in an Indian communication satellite; this gives the user (Navy) a long sweep of intelligence network, or what is called COMINT/ELINT (communication intelligence/ electronic intelligence,) on moving non-land platforms like ships.

The Ku band allows high-density data transmission, including voice and video. The 3,000-watt power on board is also higher than normal as it has to communicate with smaller and mobile — meaning not land-based — terminals, according to one of them. Special ground infrastructure has also been put in place for GSAT-7.

Arianespace, the launch service company, said GSAT-7 was the 17th ISRO satellite to be lifted to space on its Ariane vehicle. Its vehicle for Friday, VA215, released the national satellite minutes after a 6-tonne Qatar satellite called EUTELSAT 25B/Es’hail 1. ISRO first used an Ariane launcher for its 1981 experimental satellite named APPLE.